Arya Asanga was born in the year 375 AD in Purushapura, India (present day Pakistan), the capital of Gandhara, to a Warrior father and a Brahmin mother named Pratisha Sheela who was herself an adept in the Buddhist teachings. When he was young and ready to learn, his mother taught him the ‘eighteen sciences’ which he mastered easily.
When Asanga became a man Pratisha Sheela asked Asanga and his half-brother VasuBandhu whether they wanted to live a householder’s life in which they would marry and continue their father’s work, or if they wanted to become monks and serve the whole world. Asanga and his brother on their mother’s suggestion became monks and joined monastery.
Asanga spent five years in the monastery learning thousands of verses of dharma and understanding them. Asanga was very much inspired by the qualities of Maitreya Buddha. He went to the ‘bird mountain’ to live there meditating on the Maitreya. He meditated there for 3 years. Even after three years of hard penance Asanga couldn’t recognize any significant changes inside him, Asanga got discouraged and started walking away thinking of quitting.
On his way he sees a crow flying into its nest, which on its way had created marks on the rocks by the friction of its wings with the rocks (as there was only a small hole through the rock to its nest). Asanga thinks ‘I must not give up very easily, the crow must have been flying to and fro from the nest for a long time for the marks to be that big’. He goes back to the cave to continue his meditation for 3 more years.
After three years he was still unhappy about his progress and again thought of quitting his practice once and for all, on his way down the hill he heard ‘tip tip’ sounds of water drops falling on the rock. There he saw deep holes on the surface of the rock, and he thought ‘something as soft as water has made holes in this hard rock, I must carry on my penance if I want to see significant changes in me’.
So he went back to the cave and continued his meditation, japa and other spiritual practices for another three years, with much more effort than previous years. It was painful but he endured it with patience, after three years once again he felt discouraged, he had lost his patience, when he was walking in the nearby village he saw an old man making needles from iron pieces by rubbing the surface of pieces with smooth cotton cloth, ‘I’m just finishing this one, look I have already made all those over there’ he said.
‘If it is possible to put such an effort on something as trivial as this, then I must put great effort on something as great as Enlightenment’ thought Asanga, and went back to the cave to meditate for 3 more years.
It was 12 years now from the time Asanga first started. He was still unhappy with his progress, once while walking in the village he heard a dog cry in pain. He looked for the dog around and found it, the dog was infested with maggots, its body was so rotten that it only had front legs and some more part left, it was in serious pain.
Asanga felt the pain of the dog. He rushed with a stick to remove the maggots from the wound, as the stick touched the wound the dog gave a cry of pain, so now Asanga tried to remove the worms with his fingers, but still the dog felt the pain when his fingers touched the wound.
Now Asanga thought ‘I should use my tongue, it is softer’ and as he removed the worms from the wound the dog transformed into the ‘light body’ of Maitreya (the future Buddha) which glowed even in daylight with beautiful light rays shooting out of him in every direction.
Asanga was thrilled to see Maitreya, but the pain he had to endure for this moment was great. so he asked the Maitreya ‘O great one, I had to go through so much pain, you did not come to me when I wanted to see you, but you are here when I have no more desires’
Maitreya replied ‘Dear, I was always near you, but you were unable to see me, now that your compassion for the helpless dog has removed the cloud of your Karma, you are able to see me. If you don’t believe me, you can test my words, carry me on your shoulder and check if anyone else sees me’
Asanga carried Maitreya on his shoulders and walked into a town crying out loudly ‘Do you see what I’m carrying on my shoulders? please tell me what am I carrying?’ most people laughed at him thinking he was a fool for they saw nothing on his shoulder.
An old woman, who must have been a kind person saw a dead dog on his shoulder ‘you are carrying a dead dog’ she replied. Another person who was a good slave to his master saw the feet of Maitreya, ‘you are carrying somebody on your shoulder’ he said (stories say he achieved a higher state on realization for being able to see even his feet).
Now Asanga was sure that nobody could saw Maitreya because of their Karma. Maitreya asked Asanga ‘What is your wish now? what do you want to do?’
Asanga replied ‘I want to spread the teachings of the great enlightened one (Gautama Buddha)’
‘Then come with me’ said the Maitreya and started ascending into a higher realm of existence (Tushita heaven), Asanga held an end of Maitreya’s robe and it enabled him to raise with him. In that realm Asanga studied the teachings for 50 years, when he was fully ready to spread the words of the Buddha he came back to the earth. Asanga lived till the ripe age of 120 teaching the knowledge of enlightenment.
The author of this story is unknown and greatly appreciated!